Polymer Technology Apprenticeship

Manufacturing Apprenticeship – A Huge Success for this Employer

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Recently we got the chance to chat with Greg Reddin, Business Unit Manager 2GT Operations at Johnson & Johnson Vision to talk about Manufacturing and Polymer Apprenticeship programmes and how they worked out in practice from an employer’s perspective. Here's what he had to say:

So how did you come across the Manufacturing Apprenticeship Programme, Greg?

Well it was through my connections in Ibec - back in 2015 I was invited to join a consortium which included industry-based engineers and employers, as well as experienced professionals from Ibec and the Irish MedTech Association. There were two teams, one focused on HR and the other on the technical aspects of an Apprenticeship programme, I led the technical team. 

We worked hard to devise the Manufacturing Apprenticeship programme that was subsequently validated by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology . The Polymer Apprenticeship was validated by Athlone I.T. 

So I guess I was involved from the very outset, which was useful as I was able to influence the content of these programmes so that they really delivered on what an employer would need, specifically we all need technicians who can problem-solve.  

So what skills gap do the Apprenticeships fill?

Many of us in industry have struggled to recruit manufacturing technicians in recent years. Historically most students would have come out as technicians at Level 6 or 7 after a couple of years – now a lot of the technical courses are 4 year degrees. So that created a shortage and back around 2015 we were trying to address that. Of course the economy has grown since then so demand is even higher.  

On top of that automation is making things a lot more dynamic and that’s why we need problem-solvers. All of our industry have different systems, resources and tools that we use so we really need technicians that have the skills and process to work through challenges regardless of the environment. 

In practice , how has the Programme worked from your perspective as an Employer?

This has been a real eye-opener and there have been many unforeseen benefits that we didn’t anticipate when we devised the programme originally. We’ve taken on Apprentices in 2017, 2018 and this year – both manufacturing and polymer students – and each year we’ve increased our in-take. At this stage I’d guess we have about 20 on-site. It’s been a huge success!

I’m delighted to be doing this interview right now as our first intake are graduating this month. Every graduate has been offered a full-time position as a process technician so from a recruitment perspective it has been a great way to find and retain talent. 

But its much more than just a recruitment tool. We’ve noticed that when we take on graduates straight from College, they typically need a couple of years before they can contribute a lot. Because the apprentices are straight into a practical working environment, they can add value really quickly and integrate into the organisation well. With all the practical work experience they get, they are really quick learners on a tactical level.

Strategically of course we see this as a great way to future-proof our business - by addressing this technical skills gap with loyal, capable workers who have great problem solving abilities – that’s what you need in a manufacturing facility.

Interestingly, it has helped the business with gender balance too – over 25% of our apprentices are female where typically only 7% of our process technicians would be female.

How have the Apprentices themselves found it?

Well I shouldn’t speak for them of course but they are very successful in their roles with J&J Vision. It’s a great way to “earn and learn” and full time education isn’t for everyone; the blended model suits some students a lot better. And it’s a pathway to an engineering degree for those who do want to pursue that option. 

There’s really as many benefits for the students as there is for the employer and that’s what we all look for – a win-win. I 

I couldn’t recommend this more highly to perspective employers…